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Richard Hoehler's Working Class

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

There is no such thing as an "ordinary" person - everyone has a story to tell. That is exactly the premise behind Richard Hoehler's Working Class, the entertaining and occasionally insightful one-man show now being presented in the Midtown International Theatre Festival.

Hoehler wrote and stars in the piece, which was smartly directed by Leigh Strimbeck. The play consists of seven scenes, each of which presents a wealth of details about the work and life of one particular man. Hoehler presents, for example, Eddie, who can just never seem to be on time for work, though he always has a great excuse. Or T.J., the frustrated office manager forced to answer the phones until the usual salesman comes in, or Jesse, the unemployed husband with just a tiny chip on his shoulder.

The vignettes may be highly comic or more solemn, but they - and the men they present - all feel like real people. When the speeches drag on a bit too long, as they occasionally do, Hoehler's intense likability and honest shines through. Whether he is portraying the characters mentioned above, or involved with the more serious stories of Bobby, the ex-convict construction worker, the young gay waiter Dennis, or the pre-occupied juice seller victor, Hoehler never allows your attention to flag.

Perhaps it is the final man Hoehler portrays that makes the strongest impression. Mike is a caterer who, encouraged by one of his clients, auditions for the gravedigger in Hamlet. He is faced with confusing language in a speech that seems to have little to do with gravedigging ("To be or not to be?") but he is willing to give it a shot. It soon becomes that Mike, after failing at four businesses, is desperate for success, if only to prove wrong everyone who told him he would never make it.

As the audition process continues, it becomes clear that, under the man we thought we understood, there is one much more complex waiting to get out. The transformation Mike undergoes - which alone is reason enough to see Working Class - is remarkable, and resonant both within the play and within our own lives. Hoehler ultimately does not want us to forget that, like the men he chronicles, we are all capable of more than we believe.

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Richard Hoehler's Working Class
by Richard Hoehler
Through July 28
The Midtown International Theatre Festival
The New 42nd Street Theatre, 348 West 42nd Street between 8th and 9th Avenues
Tickets $15 per show / Festival Pass $99
Festival Schedule and Tickets: Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200